The night didn’t start as I’d hoped. I got to the Institute a bit late, but was still confident I’d be in time to catch the second support, the mighty Bo Ningen. These Japanese freak-out merchants have been taking their retro-metal racket around the country with the Horrors and I was very happy when I learned they were on the bill. So, with Sabbath playing the other side of town the following evening, I was ready for Bo Ningen’s preemptive, bonkers, 70′s-style, riff assault on Birmingham.
Except, for some reason, they’d been on first, which must have been a 7.15pm time slot by my reckoning. Faaaaar too early for these savages to be peddling their wares to the uninitiated, and the initiated for that matter. It’s been a while since I attended a weekend gig at a venue like this, and it’s a really unpleasant experience when stuff like this happens due to impending club nights or whatever other reason the organisers might have had. Livid at this infraction against music and life in general (and my £4.20 pint; though I couldn’t stay angry at it for too long), I tried not to let it cloud the judgement that was about to be brought down on second-on-the-bill act, Toy.
As well as being close friends with the Horrors, this is their second stint together as touring partners, and in keeping with the theme of the night, theirs is also a sound heavily inspired by times gone by. With Bo Ningen’s screeching, psych-pop-metal sounding (on record, at least) like the soundtrack to people having a borderline bad time with hallucinogenics, and the Horrors’ current output owing more to Tears for Fears and Simple Minds than anything from the past two decades, Toy genuinely sound like they have been using their influences to innovate. While immediately reminiscent of indie/shoegaze bands of the 90′s, much more surprising elements rear their head during the set, with driving, krautrock dynamics often appearing before White Hills-esque psychedelic walls of guitar noise invariably brought the songs to a close.
The only real negative was, in fact, that invariable-ness. Talking to a couple of people in the break, my thoughts on the band were reinforced. Though actually pretty different to a lot of current music, the difference between songs, based on this experience, was slight. Lots of bands cruise along comfortably, happy to regurgitate past glories, and at this early stage it’s a theory that may hold some water for Toy. However, the very way in which they have reigned in these atypical styles to forge something altogether new should give fans great hope that they won’t be content to rest on their laurels any time soon.
Onto The Horrors then, a very different prospect to the band they once were. The horror punk is gone. It’s been swept under a carpet of seriousness and professionalism. Should it ever try and worm its way out again, the band will deny association, gazes fixed awkwardly and forcibly at the floor until it leaves the room. Though they’re more than likely sick of hearing it, the Horrors are now all about the 80′s.
Frontman Faris Badwan is the only member retaining any real ‘rock’ stylings whatsoever, swaggering about the stage in a leather jacket, muttering sweet nothings (it may well have just been nothings, can’t be sure) to the throngs of people, young and old, out to catch a glimpse of these risen stars. And they really have risen. Four songs from second album, Primary Colours, are aired tonight (including the wonderfully woozy, ‘Sea Within a Sea,’), with latest long-player, Skying, making up the remainder of the set. Everything exudes confidence, not just Faris. They are truly comfortable doing this, happy to have found the direction that is clearly so utterly right for this collection of musicians. Every keyboard bleep and crooned lament are paced perfectly, instruments are allowed crucial breathing space within the songs, guitar breaks are employed as purposefully and effectively as a 4-minute solo might be for another band.
With a real romantic hero at the forefront, reminiscent of Morrissey without the irritating pomp, the Horrors could actually end up living up to the hype which has been heaped upon them by the press. I’m struggling to recall the UK’s current mainstream megastars , but whoever it is should keep one eye over their shoulder until the Horrors run their course. That could be a while, too, so don’t be surprised if Chris Martin’s Soppy-Squad are swept aside as easily as the Horrors discarded their humble, horror-punk beginnings.
Review – Jake Dowding